Tech Trip #1

We left Tumbaco at 6am. Of course we then took several buses to get to the first location, Pedro Vicente. We arrived in the center of town and were greeted by the current volunteer stationed there, Joy Love (yes, that is her real name). All of our sites for this trip are in the transition region between the sierra and the coast, which means that it is very warm and humid, and we could definitely feel the difference. Joy walked us to our hotel so we could drop our stuff off. We then had about 25 minutes to prepare for our first charla of the day. All week long, we would be giving charlas with the same people- in my case 2 other volunteers. After quickly reviewing our lesson plan, we walked to the elementary school in town where we would have about 40 minutes to discuss hand washing and proper nutrition. My group was assigned a class of 6-7 year olds. The classroom was extremely warm, and even though I had presented my first charla the previous Friday I was a little nervous. We started by introducing ourselves as “health teachers” from the United States and explaining that our Spanish is not very good, so they should raise their hands if they couldn’t understand what we were saying. We talked about why it is important to eat healthy food, and then we hung up a blank food pyramid and had them tape food where they thought it belonged. Once everyone had taped their food up, we rearranged the food to reflect a healthy diet, and talked a little bit about vitamins, protein, and other nutrients. This would be the format that we’d follow for all of our nutrition charlas during the week. Our plan was to simply adapt the depth of the discussion based on our audience. Once we finished discussing nutrition, we moved on to hand washing. We sang the same song we used for our first charla (stick with what works, right?), using the “alternate” version that emphasizes hand washing with soap and water. Then we were done… 40 minutes flew by. The kids were great, and were really wonderful about participating. I still wish my Spanish was better though! We left the elementary school and grabbed lunch in a local restaurant, then it was time for charla number two! This time we walked to the local high school so that we could present to some of the professors there about nutrition and healthy eating. This was definitely one of my favorite charlas so far. It was really funny to see them argue about what foods were healthy and what foods were not, and it was great to see them thinking about food that they eat so often, like white rice, and what its nutritional value really is. They were also very attentive during the charla and supportive of our attempts at Spanish. After that charla ended, we walked to Joy’s apartment. She told us about her day to day life as a PCV and it was really nice to hear some of the projects she has been working on. After talking with Joy, we walked down to the river. Some of the other trainees actually went swimming, but I just kind of waded around and took a lot of pictures. Even though it was raining, it was a beautiful place and we had a blast. It was one of those moments that already feels like a memory. I felt safe, happy, and grateful to be in that place at that time. We then walked back to the hotel to change and have dinner. After dinner, we went to Joy’ aerobics class, which she holds Monday through Thursday at 8pm. It was intense but super fun. She also said it was a great way to integrate into your community and a solid health program to initiate as a volunteer. We got back to the hotel around 9:30, sweaty and exhausted.

Our first activity of the day was to give another charla. This one was hygiene for 3-5 year olds. A little bit challenging to say the list. Luckily, the teacher was pretty helpful. This time, in addition to singing the hand washing song, we used glitter to show how germs can spread from person to person. Once that charla was done, we did a few surveys in the neighborhood. We had to create and conduct a survey in order to gain a better picture of health and hygiene habits in the communities. Later this week, we will have to present to PC staff members on issues in the community and propose a hypothetical project to address them based on the results of those surveys. After speaking to a few people, we had the opportunity to meet the Mayor of Pedro Vicente. He seemed like he is really interested in advancing his community, but I wish I could have understood a little more of what he was saying. After the meeting, we briefly visited a daycare and then toured the local hospital. It was very different from a U.S. hospital-much much smaller for one thing-and there aren’t really specialists working there. For many reasons, including a limited budget, only general physicians work there, in addition to one surgeon. However, those general physicians are trained in many specialties so that they can treat their patients rather than referring them to specialists, like how it works in the U.S. We were able to hear from one of the founders of the hospital, an American man in his mid-forties. He was extremely engaging and had a lot of great things to say. One thing that really struck me was when he said that people (most often women giving birth) had died in the back of trucks looking for a hospital in Quito to treat them. This can occur because the hospitals are understaffed and will stop accepting patients when they reach a certain capacity, which often happens by mid-morning. After the hospital visit, we went to the market and had lunch. Then we said goodbye to Joy and got on a bus to Puerto Quito. It was a pretty short drive. Our next site was actually outside of Puerto Quito, at a farm. It was tranquil and gorgeous.

The first thing we did on Wednesday was walk to the local school to give a hand washing charla. This was not as uneventful as it may seem. We had to cross two footbridges. The first was pretty sturdy; 4 people could stand on it at one time. The second one… not so much. It was essentially 4 bamboo trees nailed together and laid across the river bank. I am not scared of heights or anything, but I was pretty anxious crossing it. After all, we all know my balance is not the greatest in the world. How lucky many of are in the U.S., that getting to school is so easy. The school we visited was our most rural visit to date. It was one room and one teacher for all of the approximately 20 students, who were of mixed ages and grades. The bathroom was a few minutes’ walk from the class, with one all purpose water faucet that had no soap. We had only 3 kids in our group, one of who was in a wheelchair and had different mental capabilities from the other students. The kids were shy but adorable and they open up a little after a few minutes. When we were done presenting the teacher talked to us about the challenges she faces running her school. It was so different from the town schools we had previously visited. We came back to the farm and “helped”. We fed the chickens, quails, ducks, pigs, and rabbits, worked in the gardens and collected some fruit. After we ate lunch we hiked into the woods (which felt more like a jungle). We tasted cocoa, fruits, and other plants right from the path. The coolest thing about this hike was that after 20 minutes we were so far in that there was no sign of human presence anywhere. There were giant dragonflies, poison frogs… so neat. After the hike, we received a presentation on medicinal plants. A local staff member at the farm also showed us how to cleanse bad energy using plants. The same woman also explained the practice of using cuy (guinea pig) to diagnose what is wrong with someone. In a ritual they rub the live cuy all over the person’s body. Then, whatever is wrong with the cuy is what is wrong with the person. One of our staff members told us that a very skeptical volunteer tried it a few years ago to prove it wrong and it actually worked! Pretty interesting stuff. After that presentation ended, we all went for a swim in the river, and this time I actually swam. It was very relaxing. The other group arrived in the afternoon. Wednesday was the only day that our trips overlapped.

Thursday we left the farm in the morning and after about an hour and a half on the bus, we arrived in Santo Domingo, which is quite a large city. After we checked into the hotel and had lunch at a yummy vegetarian restaurant, we hopped on a bus to give a nutrition charla in a high school outside of the city. Although I had lost most of my nerves by now, seeing this school made me a little nervous again. The kids sounded very rowdy… and they were our first group of high schoolers. Until now, we had only presented to adults or children. My group walked into our assigned classroom and saw 61 12-15 year olds staring back at us. We did our thing and I have to say they were better than I expected. They were enthusiastic and participated a lot. They weren’t “too cool” for us as I suspected they would be. At the end of our session we asked them a few questions to see if they actually learned anything. To my great satisfaction, they answered everything correctly. We then walked to the community health clinic and got a tour from one of the doctors there. After that it was back to the city for a few surveys, dinner, and some relaxing T.V. time in the hotel room.

After walking to a bakery for some fresh breakfast rolls, we headed back to the town from the day before. This time, we were giving a hand washing charla to grade school kids. This charla was another one of my favorites. They really liked playing with the glitter! After the charla, we toured a nutritional rehab center for moms and toddlers. It was really interesting because so much of it is based on behavior change, like cooking differently or eating different kinds of food. I had lunch at the vegetarian place again, and then we headed back to Tumbaco.

Overall it was a great trip; a wonderful balance of relaxing fun and professional practice!


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by MMM on July 3, 2011 at 11:27 am

    what a great idea with the glitter…i bet that went over well! Cool about the guinea pigs too….

    great post katrina!!


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